Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood

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Combining humor, honesty, and plainspoken advice, Momma Zen distills the doubts and frustrations of parenting into vignettes of Zen wisdom.

Drawing on her experience as a first-time mother, and on her years of Zen meditation and study, Miller explores how the daily challenges of parenthood can become the most profound spiritual journey of our lives.

This compelling and wise memoir follows the timeline of early motherhood from pregnancy through ...

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Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood

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Combining humor, honesty, and plainspoken advice, Momma Zen distills the doubts and frustrations of parenting into vignettes of Zen wisdom.

Drawing on her experience as a first-time mother, and on her years of Zen meditation and study, Miller explores how the daily challenges of parenthood can become the most profound spiritual journey of our lives.

This compelling and wise memoir follows the timeline of early motherhood from pregnancy through toddlerhood. Momma Zen takes readers on a transformative journey, charting a mother’s growth beyond naive expectations and disorientation to finding fulfillment in ordinary tasks, developing greater self-awareness and acceptance—to the gradual discovery of “maternal bliss,” a state of abiding happiness and ease that is available to us all.

In her gentle and reassuring voice, Karen Miller convinces us that ancient and authentic spiritual lessons can be as familiar as a lullaby, as ordinary as pureed peas, and as frequent as a sleepless night. She offers encouragement for the hard days, consolation for the long haul, and the lightheartedness every new mom needs to face the crooked path of motherhood straight on.

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  • Karen Maezen Miller
    Karen Maezen Miller  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Here at last is what we mothers have been waiting for: momma-hood held in equal respect to monk-hood.”—Shambhala Sun

“Wrestling oneself free from the need for control is a constant struggle. This book realizes it with warmth, engagement, and winning honesty.”—Publishers Weekly

"Eloquently frames the everyday experiences of parenting as opportunities for spiritual growth."—Mothering 

"Miller has written a powerful synthesis of the insights she has attained, both through the experience of motherhood and as a Zen Buddhist priest."—Literary Mama

“Miller’s book offers guidance, insight, and wisdom. She shows us how to embrace not only the ups and downs of our own mothering, but also helps us open our heart to those who have mothered us. I recommend her book to anyone who wants to really learn something about spiritual practice in everyday life.”—Diane Eshin Rizzetto, author of Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion

“Miller's practice has seeped deeply into her life and the result is an extraordinary book of practical wisdom. She avoids the preaching and moralizing so common in parenting books, and instead offers the reader a way of peace and freedom in the midst of fatigue and doubt. A truly valuable book.”—William Martin, author of The Parent's Tao Te Ching

Momma Zen, filled with honest tales of the bedlam of motherhood, beckons us to an oasis of silence and acceptance. Miller deftly leads us to the realization that, rather than searching outwardly, this oasis can be located in the center of the life we are living right now.”—Vivian Glyck, author of The Tao of Poop

"Honest, revealing, funny, and poignantly accurate, Momma Zen unfolds the powerful path of raising a child, as well as the opportunities for deeper spiritual understanding. An important contribution."—Nicolee Jikyo McMahon Roshi, Three Treasures Zen Community, San Diego

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590304617
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/13/2007
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 235,224
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.45 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Maezen Miller is a mother, wife, writer, and a Zen teacher (dharma holder) in the lineage of the legendary Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi. A journalist by training, the author had a twenty-year career as the owner of a marketing and public relations agency. Today she freelances as a business communications consultant, speechwriter, speech trainer, web copywriter, and ghostwriter.

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Read an Excerpt

Too Tired

Avoid it as long as possible, then when you're ready, stop and look at yourself in the mirror. Staring back at you is your new best friend, your steady companion. Say hello to fatigue. It has come to stay.

I was not a wife or a mother when I attended my twentieth high school reunion. I wafted into the Marriott ballroom that night, bright, shining, and weightless by the choices that had left me unencumbered at the age of thirty-eight. I looked fantastic, and more so by comparison to my classmates, I thought. Most of them were, naturally, raising families and toughing out difficult marriages. They wore every hard day's night on their faces, hair, and everywhere. An exuberant ex approached, sizing up my full effect. "What's your secret?" he gushed. I demurred. I was so deluded. I thought (a) there was a secret, and (b) I knew it.

Whatever I thought it was, I must have forgotten it between the 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. feedings. I must have misplaced it on one of those ten thousand nights when the fever goes up, the coughing gets worse, or the crying won't quit. I must have washed it with the whites or swept it up with the mud, crud, and cracker crumbs.

More so than the endless tasks and deprivations, it is something else that ultimately wears you down and out. It is the monumental responsibility of parenthood in general and motherhood in particular. It renders you so very tired that you begin to look and even sound like your own mother. I am too tired to pick you up. I am too tired to play. I am too tired to laugh. I am sick and tired.

A Zen teacher might exhort, "When you're tired, be tired." In other words, don't exaggerate, contemplate, bemoan, or otherwise involve yourself with it. Don't reject it; don't despise it. Don't inflate it with meaning or difficulty. Be what you are: be tired.

Exhaustion is not a strategic spot from which to defend your turf. It's not the best place to start drawing lines and setting limits. It's not a power position. And therein lies the extreme benevolence of it. Be tired. Be so tired that you will let the troubles and turmoil wash over you. Be so tired that you will stop measuring the length of your hardship and stop looking for an end. You will forego some things for a time—bouncy hair, brilliant eyes, clear skin, incalculable dress sizes, good cheer, the intoxication of looking your best—but you will lose nothing that is worth fighting for.

Fatigue is a gift. Like many of the gifts that come to mothers, it is not one you would choose, like a spa vacation, but one you can use, like a humidifier. It is a cure and a balm. Fatigue helps you forget. When you are tired, you let go. You drop what you no longer need and you do not pick it up again.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note: What Is Zen?     xi
Crooked Path: How do you go straight on a crooked path?     1
Other Mothers: Overwhelmed and uncertain-there's no other kind     3
Just Love: The first and last word on the subject of motherhood     9
No Expectation: What not to expect when you're expecting     13
Being Unprepared: Now delivering the unplanned portion of your life     20
Life Force: Nothing little about it     26
Losing Ground: Dwelling nowhere, raise the mind     31
Sing Song: Where lullabies come from     33
Small Failures: There are no mistakes, even the unforgivable ones     38
Night Watch: A meditation on sleeplessness     42
Making Change: Things change. How quickly can you?     47
Too Tired: No returns or exchanges: fatigue is the gift of the maternal     52
No Exit: Open your mind and step free     55
Little by Little: Climb the cliff without hands     59
About Time: You're the keeper     61
Other Toys: Know how to be satisfied     69
Flowers Fall: When bad things happen     75
Workloads: Who's the real workhorse in the family?     80
Just Eat: Let food be food     85
On and Off: Tuning in to the middle way     91
Self-Discipline: Don't deceive yourself     96
Magic Words: Learning to talk     103
Waking Up: Turn the light inward     109
No Trace: They grow up soon enough     111
No Separation: The reality of saying bye-bye     116
Right Now: Attention, Mom! Can you handle it right now?     122
Fresh Start: Always just beginning     125
Be Yourself: You're not who you think you are     128
Home Again: Every day is a good day     135
You'll Know: Knowing nothing is knowing everything     137
At Ease: The grass grows by itself     142
Tending Garden: Seasons of marriage     146
Beyond Words: The timeless voice of love     151
Why Not: No right answers, only a right question     155
Happily After: A wise mother's inheritance     162
How to Meditate: Finding a moment in the midst     167
For the Hard Days: Where to look for help     171
Credits     173
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2006

    The Wisdom of Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters

    While many readers will find the appropriate Zen references especially thought-provoking, I found most moving the author's descriptions of her role as a daughter. After all, what really links us women to each other is the generation-to-generation sharing of wisdom and unconditional love. Miller captures this and describes it beautifully.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 10, 2011

    Highly Recommend - a must-read for any mother or mother-to-be!

    This book is amazing! While the title may be daunting - not many of us know about Zen practice, including myself - the book itself speaks the universal language of motherhood. Karen Maezen Miller tells us of her trials and tribulations, successes and "failures" in her first years as a mother. Momma Zen both allows you to commiserate with the author and lifts you up to be the best momma you can be.

    I cannot speak highly enough of this book! Beautifully written and perfectly executed, Momma Zen is one of the best books I have ever read. I have flagged a bunch of the pages for quick return readings and will undoubtedly reread the entire book over the course of my life.

    In short, this book - like I mentioned in the headline above - is a must-read for any mother or mother-to-be!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2007

    Must have for every mother!

    If you have a child or a mother, this book will change the way you view that relationship forever. Karen opens a door, turns on the light and invites you to sit down in your own life, to live it without judgement, to love without expectation. She shows us that being the perfect mother is not about being perfect but just about being present. This is a book I will read over and over and a book I will buy for every new mother that comes into my life. It is truly a gift.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2014

    Wonderful Just wonderful. Game changer for this new mama.

    Beautifully written. Read this and you will breathe easier knowing you are *so* not alone on this mysterious, joyful and maddening journey called motherhood. Must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2007

    Finding peace in the chaos

    This book helped me so much during my first month as a mother. Every time I felt worried, stressed, overwhelmed, tired, or just intensely in love with my child, there was always a chapter in Karen's book that resonated. Her words were always there to uplift me, make me laugh, or help me to cry. She perfectly describes the shared experience of motherhood in a very humble, humorous, and loving way. I highly recommend this book for every mother and mother-to-be.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2006

    Momma Zen - I give it 5 Cheeri-OMs!!!

    There are so many wonderful things to say about 'Momma Zen'. I dogeared the pages that I wanted to refer back to and realized that there are enough pearls of wisdom to string a necklace. Therefore, I decided to let you find your own pearls. The delight in having discovered something is much more magical than having it handed to you. At the end of the first chapter the author writes, 'These words thus flow from my heart to yours, from one other mother to one other mother or mother-to-be. I know. I understand. Me too.' And she does know! Momma Zen touched me deeply. I laughed and I cried and experienced moments of realization so profound that I heard myself exclaim, 'YES!' When I closed the book I felt at one with motherhood, at one with my baby, at one with my self. I felt present. I felt peaceful. Momma Zen is not a parenting book. It is a book about motherhood, about being a mother. It's a book about being.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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